Homeschooling as last recourse for Hassidic children in Quebec

Hassidic schools in Quebec are attempting to preserve their Jewish heritage while facing restrictions from education authorities, with homeschooling often left as the only legally acceptable option for lack of certified teachers, writes Jessica Nadeau in the daily newspaper Le Devoir (September 30). Since September the Satmar and Viznitz Hassidic communities, imitating a similar move made a few years ago by a Christian community unable to get permission to open its own school, have begun homeschooling more than 600 Jewish children. In a state where no more than 1,300 children were being homeschooled until now, this substantial increase means that authorities have decided to give more money for supervising homeschooled children (Radio Canada, July 12). The fate of a girls’ school unable to get its temporary permit renewed highlighted the situation of those schools last June. Founded 60 years ago and counting some 300 students, the long-lasting efforts by the school to meet the requirements in order to get the permit had not succeeded due to the lack of a sufficient number of hours for secular subjects. Moreover, only 2 out of 24 teachers were legally qualified. Consequently, religious teaching is now imparted in the morning, while pupils are homeschooled in the afternoon.

It is not the first time that Jewish schools in Quebec have been met with suspicion. Jewish supporters of those schools admit that they do not follow the usual curriculum of secular schools but contend that they still deliver an equivalent knowledge of secular subjects while centered around the study of the Talmud and its emphasis on reasoning. For boys even more than for girls, religious education takes a large part of the time. Boys used to devote no more than 6 to 10 hours per week to secular education and are now being homeschooled too. As a consequence, women in the community tend to be better educated in secular subjects than males and can more easily get a secular job, Nadeau adds. Moreover, young men tend to move abroad as adults and are not motivated to learn French beside Hebrew, Yiddish, and English, while female members of the community stay in Quebec and mostly find husbands coming from the U.S. On another front, Hassidic schools face criticism from former members claiming that the state failed to provide adequate secular educations to prepare them for life outside the community. They acknowledge that the coverage of secular subjects has improved over the years but claim that the situation is still far from adequate. In Israel too, where Jewish religious schools are strongly state-subsidized, former pupils of such schools have lodged complaints against the state for educational neglect.